According to an investigation by Tech Transparency Project (TTP), which created many Instagram accounts for hypothetical minors between the ages of 13 and 17, the photo-sharing platform owned by Meta allowed them to reach an account selling drugs like Xanax within two clicks. The report contrasted this with the five clicks it took to leave the app.
The report described how the app's automatic features not only failed to prevent the minors from searching for drug-selling accounts but even accelerated the procedure. This comes despite the company's community guidelines, which ban buying or selling nonmedical or pharmaceutical drugs.
"The findings of the report are horrifying, especially as our nation confronts a drug overdose epidemic of historic proportions and an alarming deterioration of teenagers' mental health precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic and misguided mitigation measures to it," wrote Hawley, who continued to cite 100,000 overdose deaths between May 2020 and April 2021.
"It is unconscionable that any company would aid and abet this epidemic of death and despair. Unfortunately, given Instagram's blatant disregard for the mental health of its young users, the findings from TPP's investigation are not shocking," he went on.
Hawley asked Zuckerberg to explain what steps Instagram has taken to enforce its community guidelines against the sale of illicit and prescription drugs and also asked for specifics regarding the protocols Instagram has for removing such accounts. Hawley inquired whether Instagram partners with law enforcement against such practices.
Hawley asked Zuckerberg to answer his questions by January 31. Meta did not respond to a request for comment.
Following reports on the negative effect Instagram has on the mental health of young people, Hawley introduced legislation in September to hold social media companies accountable for the damage their products cause children.
According to a Pew Research survey published last April, roughly four in 10 Americans use Instagram compared to about seven in 10 Americans who use Facebook. Among young adult users between the ages of 18 and 29, the majority (81%) say they use Instagram.
Over 40% of the app's users are under 22 years old, and roughly 22 million teens use the app every day, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal that cited Facebook's documents.